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Democratic NYC Braces For the GOP

Some Gird for Action; Others Plan to Flee

By Michael Powell and Michelle Garcia
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 22, 2004; Page A01

NEW YORK -- Bernice Sacks has spiky red hair and the silky voice of a veteran coach of jazz singers, and as she walks Mootzie, her apricot-colored toy poodle, she contemplates the coming Republican deluge.

She just knows some Republican delegate from someplace such as Oklahoma will wander into Balthazar or Danube, her favorite lunch spots. Sacks is a liberal with many decades in this city, and she's quite prepared to behave herself. Except those New York tables are squeezed so tight.

"Every client is leaving" during the Republican convention, "and everyone else is trying to," says Jason Croy, cutting Jack Fernandez's hair at his salon in the West Village. (Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

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"You can always hear what someone else is saying; it's what makes New York so rich," Sacks says. "But if someone gets all hawkish and gung-ho, then of course I'll jump in."

She catches herself. "I'm not going to insult any Republicans. But I will get on my soapbox."

Residents of this vastly Democratic city are preparing for the Republican convention, which begins Aug. 30, in somewhat the same fashion that residents of a medieval city steeled themselves for a great siege. Some are packing their belongings and running to the hills (the Berkshires) or the sea (the Hamptons). Some counsel resolute defiance and plan to take to the streets in protest marches. Still others hope to do all of that, and make a buck or two subletting their apartments to Republicans.

So the ads began appearing months ago on the Internet. "$2200/1br-Duplex/Penthouse/two-level Roof Terrace for GOP Convention week. Sleeps eight." Or "2br-RNC Weekend Hideaway: Funky Historic Railroad Apt. Just Far Enough Away."

That second apartment was advertised as suitable for Republicans, or protesters, or possibly both, although if he gets a bipartisan share, actor Michael Weiner might pack away his crockery.

"I'm trying to cash in, I suppose," said Weiner, who grew up in Washington but has lived here for years. "I hear a lot of murmuring from my friends about wanting to get out of town, but I think I'll stick around. I'm a performing artist, and watching this convention come to this town promises some esoteric joy."

Alas, New Yorkers' desire to reap an extortionate profit has been dealt a blow these past few weeks. Notwithstanding the hundreds of advertisements for apartments with plasma screen TV-AC-dry cleaning-treadmill-and-concierge services -- one bedroom, sleeps nine! -- a disconcerting number of Republicans have booked hotel rooms, which are cheaper and come with fresh sheets every morning.

In what is normally a slow week for visitors, city officials predicted that nearly 50,000 people will come for the convention and spend more than $265 million. But some business owners think those estimates are inflated. Hotel managers have cut their rates, in part because no one except Republicans and protesters appear to be coming to New York that week.

"I gave up trying to rent it. The only people I heard from were reporters," said Sara R. Glassman, 29, an editor who briefly advertised her apartment on the Web. "But you are correct in assuming that I'm leaving town. I saw that commercial with Ed Koch telling us to welcome the Republicans. Well, good luck on that!"

It's not as though the city has withdrawn its collective welcome mat. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg -- who converted from Democrat to Republican just before his 2001 campaign -- notes that 20,000 New Yorkers have volunteered to be convention hosts. And Councilman James Oddo, one of three Republicans on the 51-member City Council, looks forward to sharing beers with a few comrades in arms for a change.

"Outnumbered? It'll be nice not to have to hold party meetings in a telephone booth," Oddo said. "And let me tell you, it's not like Bloomberg is exactly a red-blooded Republican."

That said, on many middle- and upper-class blocks, dozens of New Yorkers spoke of clearing out. They've listened to the news and looked at the plans -- last Friday's Newsday featured a large cover photo of riot-geared cops and the headline "NYPD: We're Ready" -- and figure this particular New York week can go forward without them. Even if Osama bin Laden stays in his cave, and the protests and rallies go smoothly, who needs police dogs sniffing at your heels and street closings and anarchists and all that?

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